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Critically endangered 'dancing lemur' born in European zoo

A European zoo is hoping its conservation breeding program will help preserve the lives of critically endangered Coquerel's sifaka lemurs.
Critically endangered 'dancing lemur' born in European zoo
Posted at 5:52 PM, Jan 01, 2024

With the new year, a fresh start for the "dancing lemur" species could be on the horizon.

The nickname for the Coquerel's sifaka lemur hails from the unique way they move, standing perfectly upright while using their bouncy legs to move along side-to-side, and Chester Zoo is showing its 3-month-old addition to the critically endangered species as proof of the moniker.

The U.K. zoo released footage of its bright-eyed lemur baby on Dec. 28 to celebrate the primate's 3-month birthday, showing the unnamed youngster clinging to its parents — 11-year-old Beatrice and 10-year-old Elliot — as they climb trees, munch on leaves and, of course, dance along the grass.

"The new baby was born with a thick fuzzy white coat, just like its parents, and is already wide-eyed and full of personality," said Nick Davis, primatologist and general manager of mammals at Chester Zoo. "Mum Beatrice is being kept very busy with her playful arrival who is feeding from her regularly and has, so far, showed great signs of development."

Beatrice and Elliot arrived from a U.S. primate sanctuary in 2021 to kickstart a new conservation breeding program for Coquerel's sifaka lemurs, of which their baby is the newest arrival. It now joins five others living in three zoos across Europe.

The unique primates are only found in the northwestern forests of Madagascar, but they're facing a fight for survival there, as agricultural farming and human activity have caused widespread habitat loss for the island lemurs. This has led to an 80% decline in the wild Coquerel's sifaka population in the last 30 years.

With the declining rates leading the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to classify the lemurs as critically endangered, the three European zoos began to work together with Madagascar field partners to develop a special area of protected forest, now spanning more than 27,000 hectares, to help support the island's wildlife.

Plus, with each new lemur being a "huge boost" to the species, Chester Zoo is hoping its conservation program and in-country fieldwork will allow for the return of the Coquerel's sifakas to their homeland.

"We're hopeful that the work here at the zoo in the U.K., as part of the coordinated efforts with other European zoos, paired with our efforts in Madagascar to protect the forests, will ensure species like the Coquerel's sifaka can thrive for generations to come," said Mike Jordan, Chester Zoo's director of animals and plants.

For now, the new baby continues to gain confidence and explore on its own, and maybe he'll soon be able to jump 20 feet through the treetops on those dancing feet.

"Over the next few months the youngster will gain enough confidence to begin exploring on its own. Only then will our team be able to get a closer look and discover if it's male or female, which is really important information as we work to safeguard the species and its future," Davis said.

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